Insights into dementia – how to provide effective care and support

Michele Saunders, Dementia and Lifestyles Manager, Aria Care

In my role as the Dementia and Lifestyles Manager at Aria Care, I have had the privilege of sharing many heartwarming and poignant moments with our residents and their families. Each day brings new challenges, but also new opportunities to learn and grow in our understanding of dementia. It’s a condition that profoundly affects individuals and their loved ones, and yet, it’s often misunderstood.

So, what is dementia? Our belief is that dementia is about the person, not just the symptoms. As someone who has dedicated my career to supporting those living with dementia, I have come to understand that it’s not the defining part of an individual. Our residents are not just cases to be managed but vibrant individuals with stories, emotions, and the individuality to enjoy activities and social interactions in the way they wish to do so.

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Feelings drive behaviour

In our care homes our dementia support all comes from the heart. We operate on a fundamental principle – understand the feelings of our residents, and you will understand them. When someone with dementia acts out of character, or seems upset, it’s often a form of communication. They may be experiencing discomfort, confusion, or fear in ways they can no longer articulate. This is why feelings drive our approach to care – because knowing someone’s feelings helps us meet their needs more effectively.

See the person, not the dementia

It’s crucial to remember that a person with dementia is still very much themselves. They may not express it in the way they used to, but they are still there, beneath the symptoms. This understanding is at the heart of our care philosophy. We see the person first – their likes, dislikes, their history, and their personality. This person-centred approach helps us create a supportive and understanding environment where residents feel valued and loved.

The brain and dementia

Dementia signifies that the brain is undergoing changes, leading to symptoms that we recognise as part of the condition. It’s a progressive disease, which means it can intensify over time. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, it is estimated that there are 944,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is predicted to rise to over 1.1 million by 2030. This statistic not only highlights the scale of the challenge but also the importance of compassionate and knowledgeable care.

Guiding principles in dementia care

Here is some advice on how to support someone with dementia. These principles are based on respect, empathy, and understanding:

  • Create a happy environment where the person feels supported rather than opposed.
  • Logical reasoning can be difficult for someone with dementia, so it’s more effective to gently divert their attention to something more positive.
  • Comfort and reassurance are key, so try not to overwhelm them with facts or reprimands.
  • Reminiscing about the past can be comforting, whereas asking them to remember specific things can lead to frustration.
  • Repetition can be a helpful tool rather than a sign of frustration, so patience is vital.
  • Focus on the abilities that the individual still has, not those that have been lost.
  • Ask and never be demanding in your approach as this is more respectful and effective.
  • It’s important to provide encouragement because this helps create a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
  • Gentle reinforcement supports learning and retention without causing stress.

When it comes to understanding and supporting those with dementia, it is about more than providing care. At Aria Care it’s about nurturing a community where every individual can feel secure, understood, and respected. We make a difference every day, not just in the lives of our residents but also providing their families with peace of mind. It’s this connection, this ability to make a positive impact, that drives us forward in our mission to provide care from the heart.

In reflecting on the principles and practices we use in our care homes, my hope is that they resonate among the wider community. Together, we can continue to improve our understanding and our approach to dementia care, making every moment count for those we support.